Kevin MacMillan: Bidding farewell to a colleague and an incredible spirit |

Kevin MacMillan: Bidding farewell to a colleague and an incredible spirit

Kevin MacMillan

The resort-market newspaper world — and really, the entire world in terms of one full of decent people who can teach us lessons about humanity — lost a shining soul this week.

As some may have read on our website, Gunilla Asher, publisher of The Aspen Times (a sister publication of the Sierra Sun and Bonanza), died Monday after a long battle with cancer. She was 42.

While I did not know Gunilla well, I had the pleasure of chatting with her several times at our annual Swift Communications company meetings over the last half decade, including a brief hello just a handful of days ago at our 2014 gathering in Vail.

Using adjectives such as “spry,” “energetic” and “tenacious” to describe the type of person Gunilla was are only scratching the surface. She was damn good at her job, and perhaps even better at life. The few times I was in the same room with her, I found myself chuckling at least once every time due to her sharing her opinion on something.

To lose such an incredible spirit and consummate newspaper woman at such a young age is a bitter pill to swallow.

As we all know, life sometimes just doesn’t make sense. We all have had friends and family die too young, whether by suicide, freak accident, an incurable disease or countless other ways that we, in our moments of grieving and questioning, label as “unfair.”

Many of us are bound to take a small step back when people close to us die — or even when we read headlines and stories about the deaths of celebrities and others — and wonder “what if?”

“What if it was me?” “What if it was mom?” “What if it was my son?” “What if it was my best friend?”

I believe that kind of inner thought is a healthy endeavor. There is nothing wrong with taking that step back and putting the situation into a “grand scheme of things” perspective.

Does a death stoke a greater sense of paranoia that something terrible may happen to you or a loved one? Does it want to make you change certain lifestyle habits or encourage those close to you to make similar transitions?

Or, perhaps in the case of 38-year-old Truckee native Matt Hegeman, who’s among six people feared dead in the tragedy last week at Mount Rainier, does death make you want to better monitor or raise awareness about the perceived dangers of an outdoor activity?

All are natural ways to feel. Me, I choose to use moments like these for reflection, and then transition that into celebration, much like we attend celebrations of life for our deceased loved ones.

In these terms, I choose to remember I have plenty of good people around me, and then I celebrate and honor their existence and importance in my life by spending an extra minute or two thinking about them. Whether or not they’re aware, I have them in my mind.

It’s something I learned, without even knowing I had, from Gunilla.

As Rick Carroll, The Aspen Times editor, wrote in his story Monday about her passing, Gunilla often promoted “11:11” among friends, family and colleagues. It was the time when Gunilla asked people to think about her, and it became the battle cry throughout her fight with cancer.

“The more people thinking about me at the same time … I believe it brings a moment of healing,” Gunilla told the newspaper in 2013 for an update story on her condition. “I love people thinking about me. It feels like it makes me stronger.”

Even though she is no longer with us, I know I will hold her words to heart and use them to try and make everyone around me stronger. And I know Gunilla would encourage everyone to do the same.

— Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza newspapers; he may be reached for comment at Follow him on Twitter @Kevin1MacMillan.

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